How to Come Out (or Not) at Work

For LGBT+ individuals, revealing their true identity to co-workers, supervisors and clients comes with both risks and rewards. Your decision will depend on many factors — in both your own situation and the work environment — so there’s no one right answer for everybody. However, as a LGBT-owned business, we’d like to share our insights and tips on making the process more successful.

Pros and Cons

Workers who feel free to be their authentic selves at work report that they feel happier and more engaged. And studies show that they are more productive, which should please employers.

On the other side of the coin, many LGBT+ people are still in the closet due to fears of damage to their careers and workplace relationships. In a Harvard Business Review survey, nearly half (46%) of American respondents said they are not out to everyone at work.

Assess Your Workplace Atmosphere

Get answers to these questions to help you decide whether it’s a good idea to come out, or if the culture is just too hostile.

  • Are any other employees out?
  • Is there a LGBT+ resource group at work?
  • Do you often hear derogatory comments or “jokes” about LGBT+ people or issues?
  • Do people talk about their personal lives and expect you to talk about yours?
  • Does your employer have a non-discrimination policy?
  • Does your state or city have non-discrimination laws?

If You Decide to Come Out

Here again, you have options on making people aware of your gender identity. In most cases, keeping it casual and gradual will help everyone feel more comfortable. For example:

  • Come out just to your closest colleagues, or even just one who you can trust to support you. Word will probably spread from there without any effort on your part; though you should tell your immediate supervisor directly, so they’re not insulted by being the last to know.
  • Slide the information into a break-time conversation about personal lives, movies, TV shows or LGBT+ events that you’re participating in.
  • Put a picture of your partner, Pride flag or other LGBT+ image on your desk.

If you prefer a more formal or official approach, try:

  • Inform Human Resources and let them make the announcement.
  • Come out to your boss to lunch in private and ask them to share the news.
  • Call a big meeting and come out to everyone at once.
  • Send a company-wide email.

You should let Human Resources know in any case, because you might have to report harassment or discrimination, or you may decide to transition during your employment (which would involve medical and employee related paperwork). Don’t worry, they don’t have the right to disseminate that information without your permission.

How to Request Use of Your Personal Pronoun

As our concepts of gender continue to evolve, so do our ways of referring to ourselves and others. Here are some polite ways to make your preference known.

  • Ask the other person for their pronoun first, then follow it with your own.
    “What pronouns to you use? … Thanks, my pronouns are he and him.”
  • Introduce yourself by name and pronoun.
    “Hi, my name is Gerry and my pronouns are they and them.”
  • Add your pronoun to your email signature.
  • At the start of meetings, ask everyone for their preferred names and pronouns.

If You Decide Not to Come Out

Even in the 21st century, many workplaces are not tolerant of gender inclusivity. Your sexual orientation could lead to loss of career opportunities, lower salaries, isolation from co-workers, harassment and other subtle or flagrant forms of discrimination. Take these steps to protect your privacy:

  • Take social media accounts that reveal your gender identity private, and remove all such references from your public accounts.
  • Check what online groups you belong to; they could broadcast a message that outs you without you even knowing about it.
  • Remove photos of your partner from your office.
  • Avoid conversations about people’s partners or personal lives. If you absolutely must mention your partner, use a gender neutral pronoun.
  • Use voice mannerisms, body language and fashion choices that are closer to the traditional stereotype for your visible gender identity.
  • Don’t wear your commitment/wedding band (in case someone asks your partner’s name etc.)

People who’ve done it say it’s exhausting to maintain that charade, and definitely hurts their ability to function as part of the team. But if that’s your situation, we wish you the best. And if you decide it’s not worth it, go back and read the “How to Come Out” sections above.

You may be pleasantly surprised by how accepting people are. Or you may find it’s time to move on to a more LGBT+ friendly company. Either way, living openly as your authentic self is a huge reward all by itself.

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